MoCo History: Germantown Street Has Ties to Late 19th Century Horse Race

by Susan Soderberg
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By Susan Soderberg of the Germantown Historical Society

There is a street with a strange name off Crystal Rock Drive in Germantown — Kinster Drive. Just what or who was Kinster and why is there a street named for him?

Let’s start with the land beneath the street. Now occupied by townhouses, this land was owned by the Waters family — three brothers who inherited adjacent property from their father — in the 1790s. The land was bisected by Interstate-270 in the 1970s, but the northern portion was owned by Dr. William Waters in the 1890s. His son, Charles Waters, was very interested in race horses, though not the kind of race horses you’d see today at the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. The kind of racing popular at the time was harness racing.

Instead of running at a gallop carrying a rider, harness racing horses pull a light-weight, two-wheeled cart called a “sulky” with a driver. Instead of galloping, the horses must maintain a trot, where alternate corner legs move forward together, or a pace, where the two legs on the same side move together. Harness racing aficionados claim that this kind of racing requires much more strategy than a full-gallop race, and that the horse has to be smarter because he is only controlled by the reins and whip of the driver.

Harness racing first became popular in New England during the mid-19th century. Its popularity spread across the country, through county fairs where racetracks were built and much of the racing took place. The American horse breed for harness racing descends from a horse named Messenger who was imported from England in 1788. His lineage traces back to the Godolphin Arabian, the Darley Arabian and the Byerly Turk. The breed today, however, looks nothing like the Arabian, with its delicate lines and tapered muzzle. The horses are long-bodied, short-legged and very muscular, and have large unrefined heads.

Harness racing became so popular that it became an official breed in 1880, when the American Trotting Register adopted a set of rules establishing a standard of speed for the mile — 2 minutes, 30 seconds for a trotter; and 2 minutes, 25 seconds for a pacer. All of the standard-bred horses in America today trace their lineage back to Hambletonian 10, born in 1840. Hambletonian sired 1,335 offspring.

Now, back to Kinster. He was born (or foaled as they say in the horse world) in 1894 on the Waters Farm, Pleasant Fields. He was owned by J.A. Smith and was sold as a yearling to Charles Waters for $24. Although the horse was called “unpromising” by those “in the know,” Waters knew that with Kinsman Wilkes as his sire (father), and Cress, as his dam (mother), he could very well be a winner, because both parents had produced winners before. As a matter of fact, Kinsman Wilkes would also be the sire of Dan Patch, probably the most famous trotter of all time.

Kinster’s chance came in September 1897 at the Montgomery County Fair in Rockville.  His usual driver was unavailable and Thomas Cannon of Reidsville, N. C., took the reins and guided the stallion to win the race with a time of 2 minutes, 27 seconds, a record for the Fair. The next year he won the race at Baltimore’s Prospect Park with a time of 2 minutes, 16. 5 seconds, which “fairly dazzled the light harness world,” according to the Montgomery County Sentinel newspaper.  The article went on to say:

“Kinster is the fastest trotter ever bred in this county or in all this section of country, and may truly be said to be one of the phenomenas [sic] of this phenomenal season of trotting and pacing.”

Kinster was a bay horse 15 hands high, with white stockings above his two rear hooves. He went on to win more races, ending his career with a record time of 2 minutes, 14.5 seconds. He then became a money-making stud horse at the Pleasant Fields Farm. One of the fillies he sired, Kinstress, was bred at the farm and sold for $3,500, the most money ever paid for a horse in Montgomery County at the time. She went on to beat her father’s best time by a quarter of a second.

Photo courtesy of the Germantown Historical Society

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